LITTLE ROCK, Ark. – Scientists at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences hope to begin clinical trials this spring on a vaccine to prevent the recurrence of breast cancer.
If successful, the vaccine would not replace traditional treatment such as chemotherapy and radiation but could be an additional treatment for patients, said Laura Hutchins, the principal investigator, professor of internal medicine, and director of the division of hematology and oncology.
Thomas Kieber-Emmons, director of basic breast cancer research at the UAMS Winthrop P. Rockefeller Cancer Institute, said the vaccine was developed over a decade of study on the immune system. He said the key was understanding how different molecules work together to combat disease.
Breast cancer cells are covered with molecules, called antigens, that are capable of triggering the production of antibodies that fight breast cancer cells. But the carbohydrate antigens on cancer cells don't stimulate a strong immune system response.
Kieber-Emmons and his team came up with an alternative approach with a six-year, $2.9 million grant from the U.S. Department of Defense. They developed peptide antigens that mimic the carbohydrates.
A peptide is a compound consisting of two or more amino acids. The peptide-based vaccine tricks the body into producing antibodies that target both the peptides in the vaccine and the carbohydrates they resemble on the breast cancer cells.
The trials will be done in phases. The first phase will last four to six months, and involve women with cancer that is actively spreading and women whose cancer has come back after going into remission. The women will receive five doses of the vaccine.
The second phase will last about a year and include women who have had breast cancer but are in remission and considered at high risk of getting it again. The women will have to have been off chemotherapy for at least six months.
The number of patients participating in the study hasn't been determined.
Breast cancer is the leading cause of cancer death in Hispanic women and the second most-common cause of cancer death in white, black, Asian and American Indian women. In 2004, 40,954 women died of breast cancer, according to the Centers for Disease Control
s latest data. That same year, 362 men died of the disease.